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At long last, Prenda mastermind hit with state bar complaint
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Paul Hansmeier, one of the masterminds behind the “porn trolling” scheme known as Prenda Law, has had his license to practice law suspended indefinitely. He can’t ask for his license to be reinstated for at least four years.
Hansmeier and his colleague John Steele acquired copyrights to porn films and then sued thousands of “John Doe” defendants for allegedly illegal downloads of those films. Prenda Law made several million dollars before unraveling under a barrage of judicial sanctions beginning in 2013.
Minnesota’s Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility asked for Hansmeier to be disbarred or suspended last year.
An order (PDF) published earlier this week shows that Hansmeier has admitted to the charges and agreed to be disciplined by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Legal regulators accused Hansmeier of “bringing a lawsuit for the sole purpose of conducting discovery to find the identity of others against whom claims could be made, failing making misrepresentations to the tribunal, failing to comply with discovery requests, failing to pay attorney fees assessed against him, and transferring funds out of his law firm in order to avoid paying sanctions.”
That’s just one case. In other matters, Hansmeier is accused of filing lawsuits “without a basis in law and fact,” making false statements to a court, bringing frivolous actions, testifying falsely during a deposition, and “perpetrating a fraud upon the court.”
Hansmeier declared bankruptcy around the time he was facing legal regulators.
After a bankruptcy judge found that he had “a pattern and practice of dishonesty with the courts,” he was ordered to liquidate his assets to pay his creditors.
Judge Otis Wright, the Los Angeles judge who first sanctioned Prenda, also referred Hansmeier and Steele to criminal investigators.
A May report on Ken White’s Popehat blog suggests the FBI is looking into Prenda in an “active, determined investigation in its later stages.”
From copyright troll to “disability advocate”
After the Prenda Law business fell apart, Hansmeier turned to filing ADA lawsuits against small businesses in Minnesota. He’s kept up that business, filing batches of ADA lawsuits as recently as July.
Reviewing a few of those lawsuits shows that Hansmeier has withdrawn from them, but the cases continue. Hansmeier has been replaced by Padraigin Browne, also an attorney.
In at least some cases, Paul Hansmeier’s brother, Peter Hansmeier, serves as a “Certified Accessibility Specialist” who has analyzed disabled accessibility at some of the businesses that have been sued.
One of the more recent targets is a Dairy Queen in Burnsville, Minnesota. Hansmeier initiated a lawsuit against the Dairy Queen on behalf of Melanie Davis, a student and disability rights activist who has been a plaintiff in Hansmeier’s lawsuits since 2014.
Davis served a lawsuit to Queen Nelly LLC, the company that owns the Burnsville Dairy Queen, on June 29.
According to a later filing, the lawsuit alleged that the Dairy Queen had about 30 parking spaces but only one accessible spot and no van parking. Queen Nelly attorneys described what happened next:
The day it was served, Queen Nelly’s manager, Tom Michaud, called Davis’s attorney, Paul Hansmeier, to ask what needed to be done to the parking lot. Hansmeier did not attempt to explain the purpose of the lawsuit; instead, he cussed at Michaud and threatened to take away everything Michaud owned, leaving him bankrupt and penniless.
The parking lot had just been repainted and patched in May, and it had two designated accessible parking spots. Queen Nelly has asked for the case to be dismissed, and a hearing is scheduled for October 3.